May 26, 2018 London, England

London – Friends Paul and Simon

An English breakfast at a local café included a fried egg, baked beans, ham, toast and coffee. One of the best deals we found in London at just three pounds seventy-five as most things were quite expensive.

We then took the train back to the Heathrow airport and transferred by bus to a nearby Ibis Hotel where we spent one night before our early departure the next morning.

We made plans to meet up with Paul, a friend from England whom we had met on a Celebrity Cruise of the Panama Canal in 2007. We had visited him several times in England over the years and it was good to catch up with him again and to meet his newest husband, Simon, whom we had heard about but had not met until now. We spent the afternoon and evening visiting and catching up. Paul is now retired and Simon is driving a truck making deliveries of all types throughout Great Britain.  They live about an hour or so from Heathrow.

May 25, 2018 London, England

London – Hampton Court Palace Facade

London – Hampton Court Palace Courtyard

London – Hampton Court Palace Garden

London – Friend Tom

On this day we took the underground subway back to Victoria Station in the heart of London to catch the train to Sanderstead, south of London to meet our 84-year-old friend, Tom. We met Tom on the 2013 World Cruise at which time he was living in Lake Como in northern Italy but has since moved to London. Tom has a very nice two-bedroom condo that he has remodeled from top to bottom making it his own.  We had visited him in Lake Como and he was also on the 2016 cruise to the Far East also. He gets around.

Tom drove us to Hampton Court Palace, about an hour’s drive west of where he lives. The palace was begun in 1515 for Thomas Wolsey, a favorite Cardinal of King Henry VIII. In 1529, as Wolsey fell from favor, the King seized the palace for himself and later enlarged it. The following century King William III did massive rebuilding and expansion to the property intending to rival Versailles. The work was never completed so much of it has competing styles in the Baroque and Tudor styles.

We toured the private residences which have been beautifully restored, furnished and maintained. The gardens are equally impressive having been laid out by William III and Mary II in the late 1600’s. There are formal gardens, a maze made from hedges, an herb garden, a rose garden, a fountain garden, an indoor tennis court and even a grape vine planted in 1768 that still produces today and is enormous in size and production.

For lunch Tom took us to an Italian (Mia Casa) restaurant in the adjoining town where we had a delicious and plentiful lunch. The starter plates of pasta were large enough for an entrée portion and the entrées were accompanied with three types of vegetables, fried potatoes and bread.  No dessert required.

By the time we finished our visit with Tom and returned to London by train it was time for bed but it was a wonderful day and we were so happy to visit with Tom.

May 24, 2018 London, England

London – Little Venice Boat Cafe

London – Fish and Chips

We spent most of the day relaxing at our hotel as Mark has had a cold for most of our trip and was trying to get some rest to recover from it. Kent went to the pharmacy to pick up some nasal spray and cough drops.  In the afternoon we went out for some fish and chips at a local pub and a walk in a neighborhood near Paddington Station called London’s Venice. They call the area Venice because there is a small man-made canal built between 1810 and 1870 that once carried goods into town but is now in the middle of a quickly developing office district. Office towers are under construction on every corner of this neighborhood. The canal is now lined with beautiful shops and restaurants on the lower floors of the adjoining buildings. The canal itself has many low-lying houseboats lining its shores, many converted to bars and restaurants.  We retired early.

May 23, 2018 Frankfurt-London, England

London – Friends Alain and Matthias

We departed our hotel in Frankfurt about 9:00 AM bound for the airport by train to our final destination, London. We arrived at our hotel near Paddington Station in the early afternoon. The MStay 27 Paddington Hotel on Craven Street was small, neat and clean but was a walk-up with no elevator. We walked to a nearby pub where we had a small bite to eat before meeting friends for dinner.

For dinner we met up with our friends Alain and Matthias from Stuttgart, Germany, whom we had met on our world cruise on Holland America Line’s Amsterdam ship in 2013. At that time, they were on a year-long trip around the world without the use of an airplane because Matthias has a fear of air travel. They had made a reservation at an Indian restaurant in the Chelsea District of town that had good reviews. The dinner was very nice but most of all we enjoyed catching up with each other’s lives and travels. They had recently purchased a condo in a village outside of Stuttgart. After dinner we had a drink at a local bar before returning to our hotel. We also have met them in other years as we’ve travelled to Paris and Lucerne. We also visited them in Stuttgart. We seem to meet up with them every year or so. They are quite the travelers!

May 22, 2018 Frankfurt, Germany

Bad Homberg

Frankfurt – Magnes, Kent, Johannes

Salburg Fort

This morning our student, Magnus, from Hamburg arrived to visit with us. He decided that we should rent a car-to-go for a few hours and he would drive us to a town called Saalburg, about thirty-minutes outside of Frankfurt. In Saalburg we visited the Saalburg Roman Fort built during the reign of Emperor Trajan at the beginning of the 2nd-century AD. The fort served as a base for frontier troops for about 150 years until Roman troops withdrew from the area and the fort fell into ruins. Between 1897 and 1907 Emperor Wilhelm II ordered the fort to be meticulously reconstructed and the surrounding area to be laid out as an archaeological park, research institute and open-air museum. Today the Saalburg Roman Fort is part of UNESCO’s Upper German Raetian Limes World Heritage Site.

The buildings have been beautifully restored and there are many artifacts that were found in the area now housed in a museum. They have several workshop areas where demonstrations are given on the making of shoes, creating tools out of bones and a kitchen from the time period. During the year they have many festivals where people dress in the period costumes and re-enact battles, household activities, etc.

After a nice visit to the fort we stopped in a small town called Bad Homburg where we had a bite to eat at a café on the main square. After lunch we returned to Frankfurt and said farewell to Jochen and Magnus who each needed to catch a train home. The train ride for each of them was about four-hours but we were very pleased that they would make the effort to come to Frankfurt and spend time with us.

For dinner we met up with Johannes who took us on the train to the neighborhood where he lives not far from Frankfurt to see his apartment. He lives in a charming village community with many shops and restaurants. He has a one-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of a building with no elevator.

For dinner we walked a block from his apartment to a Spanish tapas restaurant where his mother met us for dinner. We had a very nice dinner with the two of them and she expressed how much she was looking forward to the day that Johannes would marry and start a family. She is a teacher who teaches German as a second language to immigrants as well as a pre-school class. We said goodbye to Johannes and his mother kindly drove us back to our hotel.

May 21, 2018 Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt – Main Tower

Frankfurt – Mark, Vanessa, Johannes, Kent

Frankfurt – Mark, Johannes, Kent

Frankfurt – Römer – Old Town

After breakfast in our hotel all three of us headed out for another ride on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus. We disembarked at the Romer or Old Town Square for Jochen to have a look around. We then took the HO-HO bus to the Main Tower where we took the elevator to the 54th floor for a panoramic view over the city. The skies were clear so the view was quite spectacular.

We then walked to the Opera House and took a walk down the pedestrian avenue to find a spot to have a drink and rest. It was a religious holiday and shops were required to be closed so only cafes and food stalls were open. In comparison to our walk in the same area a couple of days earlier, the streets were very quiet.
After a stop for a drink we continued our walk and stopped for a bratwurst sausage at a small shop.

Back at the hotel we met up with Johannes and his girlfriend Vanessa. Johannes was a student who was in the Tutor-Mentor program in 2010 at SDSU. They took us to a museum café along the waterfront for a coffee before heading to the oldest section of town that survived the WWII bombing for dinner. This section of town is known for its apple wine. We dined in the patio behind the restaurant and had very typical German food.

For an appetizer they ordered a local cheese that is covered with chopped white onions and a light vinegar. The cheese is put on sliced bread with butter and soaked in the vinegar. Not bad. For our meals we enjoyed things like beef sausage, sauerkraut, pan fried potatoes and schnitzel with a green sauce made with seven spices. We also had a pitcher of apple wine served with bottled sparkling water, mixed about half and half.

May 20, 2018 Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt – Kent and Jochen

Frankfurt – Opera House

This morning we had a very nice breakfast included with our room at the hotel. They had scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, bread, juices, fruit, pastries, cold cuts, cheeses and more. The staff was very good to clean the tables, replenish the trays and bring more coffee to the guests.

We then took a long walk around the central part of downtown where they have a very nice a ring around downtown. The park is filled with paved pathways for walking and biking, children’s play areas, lakes with fountains, ducks, geese, statuary and more. The walk took us a couple of hours with a few stops to rest.

Back at the hotel we met up with Jochen one of the students we had from the Tutor Mentor program at SDSU in San Diego back in 2005 and 2006. He is living between Munster where he went to school and Xanten, Germany, where his parents live. He works with his family marketing a cosmetics line online that they package and ship around the world but mostly in Germany.

Since Kent had done enough walking for one day we decided to take the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus tour along with an hour-long river cruise on the Main River. After the tours we stopped at a local restaurant for a drink and snack before heading to the hotel for a short rest. At 7:30pm we headed out to a local Indian restaurant for dinner.

May 19, 2018 Palermo, Italy-Frankfurt, Germany

We had a very early morning with a 2:30am wake-up call. By 3:00am we were in the dining room where the hotel had prepared a table for two with a plate of pastries and coffee before our departure. By 3:15am we were in our taxi on the way to the Palermo airport bound for Rome and then onto Frankfurt, Germany. The flight to Rome was only about one hour while the flight to Frankfurt took about two-hours. When we arrived in Frankfurt our plane’s luggage was sent to another terminal so everyone was waiting for their luggage to arrive with no luck. Finally, after thirty-minutes or so, the error was discovered and we were escorted to another terminal where we retrieved our luggage. The baggage claim is in a secure area so we had to be granted access through two locked doors to get our luggage.

We took a train from the airport to the main train station where we were able to walk about two blocks to our hotel. The Victoria Hotel is located in what I might call the red-light district. The neighboring streets are lined with sex shops, people sleeping on the streets and most likely dealing drugs by the look of some of the people on the street. The hotel itself is clean and the staff are friendly. The only downside is that the room is quite small and it is difficult to manage our suitcases in such a small room.

We had a bite to eat for lunch at a neighborhood Thai restaurant before returning to our hotel for a well needed nap. After our nap we took a walk around the city to explore some pedestrian only streets and the old town where they have been restoring some of the older buildings. The weather was warm and sunny so the locals were out in mass to enjoy the day. We also walked along the Main Riverfront where there is a wonderful promenade filled with walkers, bicycles and people having picnics in the sun. On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a sidewalk café where Kent had German Sausages and Mark had the Schnitzel. Our waiter was from Columbia and we had a great conversation with him about language and studying in Germany.

May 18, 2018 Palermo

Monreale – Norman Cathedral

Montreal – Norman Cathedral Interior

Palermo Cathedral

Palermo – Church of Immacolata

Palermo Architecture

Palermo – Farm Dinner Starter Plate

Palermo is located in the northwest of the island of Sicily by the Gulf of Palermo in the Tyrrhenian Sea and dates back to 734 BC when it was founded by the Phoenicians. The city is surrounded by a mountain range, has a natural port, an international airport and a population of approximately 1,000,000, mostly Roman Catholics. Incredible architecture abounds on every street with gracious buildings ornately decorated with ornamentation and wrought iron balcony railings. The sad part is that most of the buildings are in a state of disrepair and need a fresh huge amount of refurbishment. Graffiti appears most everywhere including a beautiful horseman statue in front of the main train station.

We took a guided tour of town including the ornate Piazza Bellini, or town square surrounded by beautiful churches. We visited the Capo Market where locals sell all types of goods, not only fruits and vegetables.  Then we visited the Church of Immacolata located inside the market of Capo in the historic district of town. The church was built between 1604 and 1740 and is decorated very ornately with art and paintings from many well-known Sicilian artists. Next, we visited the Palermo Cathedral first erected in 1185 on the site of an earlier Byzantine basilica. Due to the age of the cathedral and the many additions and modifications over the years it has a very eclectic design style mixing Gothic, Renaissance and Neoclassical styles.

We then took a drive up to the town of Monreale for a panoramic view of the city or Conca d’Oro or “Golden Shell” known for its orange, olive and almond trees.  We visited the 12thcentury Norman Cathedral, famous for its 50,000 square feet of precious Byzantine glass mosaics. Most of the mosaics include gold glass tiles that reflect the light and depict biblical stories. We returned to our hotel about 1:00pm.

About 4:00pm we departed for an original Sicilian farm called Antica Masseria Barone di Salvo in the town of Tumminia. We met the casero or cheesemaker where we saw how they make fresh ricotta. They gave us a sample of the warm goat cheese fresh off of the stove but it was not to our liking. They served us drinks in an inviting outdoor patio decorated with red geraniums in which we were entertained by a couple of young men who played the accordion, flute, tambourine and guitar as well as singing along.

After the cheese demonstration we were invited into a large dining room in the farmhouse where we enjoyed a four-course dinner. The first course was a beautiful plate of about ten items like eggplant, arancini, potato cake, cheese, olives and more. Next came pasta plate with two types of pasta. The first was an unusual corkscrew ribbon pasta with a clear type sauce with capers and tomatoes. The second was a small round pasta about the size of cheerios with a red sauce with meat of some sort. The main course consisted of a grilled sausage that had been sliced in half and breaded and a rolled pork stuffed with ham and other things. Dessert was a square of some type of vanilla ice cream with nuts and a crunch to it and covered with a rich dark chocolate sauce. It was all very tasty and many even thought that it might be the best meal of the trip.  We sat with our Australian gal pals along with three others from our group.

We returned to the hotel by about 7:30pm so folks could finish packing and get to be bed before their early morning departures.

May 17, 2018 Taormina Riviera-Agrigento-Palermo

Agrigento Countryside

Agrigento Temple

Agrigento Temple

We departed our hotel at 7:30am bound for the town of Agrigento and then on to Palermo, our final destination in Italy. The total day’s drive was about 280 miles making for a full day’s trip with comfort stops and sightseeing. The drive took us through the central part of Sicily which is mostly rolling hills covered in all types of crops like citrus, wheat, grapes, pomegranates, almond trees and more. The countryside is quite beautiful as the crops stretch from the valley floors to the top of the hillsides, each crop planted right next to another creating a patchwork of colors and textures. The sun was out and the temperatures were in the low 70’s.

When we arrived in the town of Agrigento we took a guided walking tour of the Valley of Temples. This area is one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greek art and architecture, a national monument of Italy and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. The archeological site which is more of a ridge than a valley consists of about five square miles of land. The remains of seven Greek temples dating back to the 3rd to the 5th centuries BC remain today. The best preserved of these is the Temple of Concordia built in the 5th Century BC. This temple has six Doric columns along the front and back and thirteen columns along the sides.

From the ridge of the Valley of temples you have a view of the newer city up on the hill with one building crowded alongside the next. The city looks compact and tightly confined while all around the town you see open space. Not far from the temples you can also take in views of the sea extending as far as the eye can see. The site was crowded with school children and visitors from around the world but it was a warm sunny day and we were happy to see the site.

In addition to the temple remains there are also remains of city gates, catacombs and residences.

From Agrigento we continued our drive north towards the town of Palermo stopping at a small roadside restaurant frequented by locals for a quick bite to eat. They had pizza’s, pasta, sandwiches, arancini rice balls, tons of pastries and even gelato. Kent and I shared a dish of pasta with eggplant and a red sauce and we each had a gelato.

Our hotel in Palermo was the Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa located in the heart of Palermo. The hotel was once a stock exchange building now converted to a hotel. There was a grand central four story open air atrium courtyard with fountain and plenty of seating. The hotel room we had was spacious with French doors from the main room and the oversized bathroom to a courtyard. It was a very nice hotel.

We walked with our Australian girlfriends (Hazel, Sheila and Annie) several blocks to a shopping street (that is pedestrian only in the evenings) to have a bite to eat. We found a small café where they served a variety of dishes from meat kabobs to pizza’s and we all found something we could eat. After dinner the girls headed back to the hotel and Kent and I walked further down the street to the opera house. It looked like a huge old opera house that I would have loved to have a tour of but it was closed already and we would not have time to return. We wandered some of the small meandering streets back to our hotel following the brightly illuminated churches. The city has hundreds of ornate churches of which we found as many as three on one small square. Many of the small neighborhood squares were filled with people drinking and eating at small cafes and bars.